Escape the Bermuda Triangle

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Have you ever experienced emotions running high or out of control in a family business meeting and wondered what happened? You invested time, energy, heart and skill, but nothing was accomplished because people dug in their heels. Many family businesses are run on an emotional family structure rather than an agreed-upon business structure.

April 01, 2006

 

 

Doug Dwyer

Contributing Editor

Have you ever experienced emotions running high or out of control in a family business meeting and wondered what happened? You invested time, energy, heart and skill, but nothing was accomplished because people dug in their heels.

Many family businesses are run on an emotional family structure rather than an agreed-upon business structure. In this situation, business growth can be slowed, stopped or even destroyed.

When my father passed away in December 1994, we had a construction company, seven franchise companies, and a real estate company with apartment complexes, strip malls and single-family homes. Managing the business transition was a great undertaking for our family of six adult children, a former brother-in-law who's like a stepbrother, and my mother, who was not active in the business.

We hired many top consultants to help us through this evolution. Bonnie Brown Hartley, president of Transition Dynamics ( www.transitiondynamicsinc.com) in Eugene, Ore., helped us understand the different meanings and responsibilities of our roles as a business owner, family member and manager.

 

Planning, communication and relationship management counter the pull of power, love and money.

This is where Brown Hartley's Family Business Bermuda Triangle comes into play. The issues of power, love and money make up an inner triangle that can cause major problems if not handled correctly. The outer triangle — planning, communication and relationship management — helps to counteract the potential negative effects of the inner triangle. The three circles represent the management system, ownership system and family system. You can't opt out of the family, to which you belong by blood or by marriage. Business ownership is on a percentage basis. Being a manager requires having the drive, talent and skills that match a necessary position.

In 1998, we had to move one family member out of the role of president and CEO over all divisions to a role as executive vice president of franchise sales and president of a newly acquired division. Then we had to choose another family member for the role of president and CEO. We wanted the best match for each position, not only to get the highest return on investment but also to allow individuals to use their natural gifts and to shine. It was a difficult transition, but it went much smoother because we understood the Family Bermuda Triangle ahead of time. It can be challenging to make these kind of changes, but it is really the only way to create a true win/win. Change is necessary for healthy growth, both personally and professionally.

Whether you have a family business or are in business with a partner, the same principles apply. Decide who will be president, vice president and department heads. Make sure the skills match the position. With one person in charge, meetings can be held for all to give input. Then the one chosen to lead can make a final decision. Lack of a clear leader will create duplication of effort and waste in your company and cause it to suffer if not fail. This applies to large and small companies.

One thing to remember when you choose a leader: It is critical that you respect, honor and stand behind the individual's decisions. He or she will not be perfect — no one is — so let him or her learn from mistakes and in the end you will achieve better results.

 


Author Information
Doug Dwyer is president and chief stewarding officer of DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen by Worldwide, one of the nation's largest remodeling franchises. He can be reached at doug.dwyer@dwyergroup.com.

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